Last week, Toyota announced that it made the one-millionth sale of the Toyota Prius in the United States. It took Toyota 11 years to achieve that impressive benchmark. While 1 million might sound like an arbitrary figure (well-suited for marketing purposes only), it becomes meaningful when you consider President Obama’s goal (dating back to 2008) of getting 1 million American consumers to drive a plug-in vehicle by 2015.
The Toyota Prius threaded the needle of desirable consumer features: industry-leading fuel economy; all the necessary space and functionality of a midsize family vehicle; performance adequate for today’s driving needs; and an accessible price.
An examination of historic Prius sales reveals a slow and bumpy 11-year path. Reaching 1 million sales required years of production ramp-up, three generations of product development, and confronting ups and downs in the broader automotive market—including major economic woes, temporary government incentives, volatile gas prices, and even a runaway acceleration hoax. This trajectory, however, did not require the build-out of new vehicle fueling infrastructure or the need for consumers to accept range limitations—as plug-in vehicles will experience.
These are rounded Prius sales numbers, by year:
- 2000 – 6,000
- 2001 – 16,000
- 2002 – 20,000
- 2003 – 23,000
- 2004 – 54,000
- 2005 – 98,000
- 2006 – 108,000
- 2007 – 179,000
- 2008 – 159,000
- 2009 – 140,000
- 2010 – 141,000
- 2011 – 172,000 (estimated based on 43,000 in Q1, 2011)
On a worldwide basis, Toyota Prius topped 2 million sales in October 2010, while combined sales of all Toyota hybrids passed 3 million units last month.
Toyota estimates that, compared to an average gas car, the Prius has saved nearly 900 million gallons of gas, $2.19 billion in fuel costs, and 12.4 million tons of CO2 emissions. These figures are expected to accelerate as Toyota adds multiple vehicles to the Prius line-up, including the wagon-like Prius V this summer, as well as the compact Prius C and plug-in Prius next year.
Considering its lead, and its expanding line-up, it could be well towards 2020 before any other green car approaches the sales volume of the Prius. While other models and technologies can boast more radical reductions of emissions and oil use on a per-unit basis, the total environmental benefit of the Prius line-up has established a difficult (but worthwhile) environmental target to which other carmakers can aspire—especially considering the introduction of the Prius plug-in model which for many short-range drivers can represent a substantial reduction in oil use.
Love it or hate it—as a cultural icon, or for its dorky appearance and less-than-exhilarating acceleration—the Prius showed that American drivers are willing to go green. Just ask any one of the 1 million Prius owners who paid hard-earned dollars to put one in their driveway.